Reflections on the May Meetings

Ruthe Farmer

Having been out of the fray for a bit (I am currently at Oxford completing an MBA) it was exhilarating to return to the U.S. for the NCWIT meetings at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana last week. The meeting kicked off with a keynote address by former astronaut and all-around amazing woman Dr. Mae Jemison. She shared anecdotes from her careers in space and medicine (both of which are significant). What resonated most with me was her comment that her achievement of being the first African American woman in space would have meant nothing if she "had minded her manners". This underscores the importance of women not only being at the table, but also speaking up with our unique perspectives and contributions - otherwise, what is the point of being there?

The afternoon highlight was the report from the "Be-Geek or De-Geek" workgroup. A group of branding and media professionals convened to debate whether the image of IT should embrace the geek factor or try to distance itself from it. The consensus was largely that we should try to move away from the geek image, but at the same time not alienate those that identify with that image. Recommendations centered around emphasizing the financial rewards of IT careers and the quick return on investment (high-paying with low investment of time and years of education compared to doctors/lawyers). I think the image issue is a big one. Whether they are geeks or not, we need somehow to let people know that jobs in IT do exist (the outsourcing myth) and technical aptitude can be learned - i.e. you don't have to be a genius or born with the techie gene.

Ruthe Farmer formerly was Manager, Technology Engineering and Education, at Girl Scouts of the USA and served as NCWIT K-12 Alliance Co-chair before departing for Oxford's Social Entrepreneurship MBA program.